Saturday, 9 June 2012

Swim 25 (and Camp): Culham Lock to Clifton Lock. 4th June, 2012

Monday was dry and sunny when we met in the car park next to Culham Lock. Unlike early last week towards the end of the mini-heatwave, when the river temperature had been more than 19°C, the Thames was now down to less than 16°C:

A couple of swimmers who were time-pressed got in around eleven o' clock, and the rest of us had one of Adam's safety briefings:

The assembled masses of the Extreme Bobbing and Wading Society.

We then started getting in at ten past eleven:

Colin follows Chris into the Thames.

Shortly after the lock, we butterfly-ed under the Culham bridge, and joined the main flow coming from the weir near Sutton Pools.

Swimmers in the distance just downstream of Culham Bridge.

Here found ourselves handily assisted by the current. This wasn't quite as much assistance as we'd had a fortnight ago when we were whooshed through Abingdon, but it was still enough to impress Pam, who had not been there for the previous swim, and she much enjoyed bobbing along without actually having to do any swimming.

Neil had been stung by a jellyfish - not in the Thames, we hasten to add, it was whilst holidaying somewhere hot and exotic (well it sounded hot and exotic to us) - and his wound hadn't healed sufficiently yet, as he was very happy to show us, so he was forming part of the bank support, along with Bob and Charles.

Adam had told us to expect a getting-out spot just after the railway bridge, approximately halfway, for refreshments, but this spot failed to materialise. It's probably just as well, as just for once, the bank support were having difficulties keeping up with the swimmers, due to the strength of the current!

Indeed even the bank support known as His Vanness who was driving to the end point had had difficulties keeping up: despite a fairly direct route by road, he only just managed to get to Clifton Lock in advance of the first of the swimmers, who arrived at ten to twelve.

Katie arrived second, and promptly pulled a face for the photographer.

Meanwhile, back near the railway bridge, as we went past we were experiencing waves. Waves? Surely we hadn't reached the Thames estuary already? You sometimes get chop in the Thames, and some small temporary waves if a boat is passing, but these were much bigger, as if some giant boat was passing us hundreds of metres away to our right. There was a boat that had gone past, but it was now a couple of hundred metres downstream and surely couldn't still be causing this.

The answer, not obvious when in the water, was easier to spot from the bank: there was an outflow joining the river which then passed by a promontory to create a giant whirlpool effect, from which came the waves.

Later on there was a weir on the right, which Adam had strenuously warned us about in advance since there were no danger signs, it just sluiced off from the right-hand bank of the river, and so we had to keep left. It turned out that there were two danger signs, one lovely big red one (but only visible from downstream of it), and the other was a very small yellow sign affixed to the weir itself. The sign is problematic though: if you are close enough to read what the sign says, you are already too close to avoid going over the weir!

The weir took with it the lovely current, so at this point we got a bit bored, since the scenery wasn't that interesting, just trees and overgrown mooring spots and signs prohibiting mooring, so we just made for the lock without lingering.

Hywel and Paula(?) arrive at Clifton Lock.

The last of us were out at a quarter to one. With a swim of nearly 3 miles, doing it in that time was still quite a current assist!

We made for the Barley Mow pub at Clifton Hampden, and enjoyed a nice hot meal. At the pub, Adam gave us another of his briefs, this time revealing to us the hitherto-secret camping arrangements.

Those of us camping travelled in a convoy to the grounds of Carmel College, near Wallingford. This turned out to be something of a Scooby Doo experience: we were in the grounds of an abandoned college with many derelict buildings, that hadn't had pupils since the mid nineties, complete with security guards, dogs and a janitor!

Chloe, Claire and Sharon look at the derelict art gallery in the college grounds.

However, unlike Scooby Doo, the janitor was very nice. We were told he lives in this boathouse:

The boathouse, just opposite from where we camped.

Once we'd had a look around the college, we put up our tents on a lovely green patch of land. Paula had some nice festive Jubilee bunting suitable for the occasion:

Bertie arrived with Sef and Angela, and we all sat round and had a good natter:

The campsite was right next to the Thames, and just before sunset, we had a full moon swim. We were going to wait for the full moon but decided it would take ages to rise sufficiently above the horizon, and by then we'd be colder and we didn't have a roaring fire to warm ourselves by, only a couple of small barbecues. The inflow from the little stream on our right was significantly colder than the Thames itself, where the current was pretty strong.

Just before sunset, looking upstream from our camping grounds at the swimmers.

Indeed it was difficult to make much headway (on indeed any headway, for some of us!) upstream. After 20 mins of swimming in one (admittedly very pretty) spot, we gave up and returned to the muddy getting-in spot.

After the swimming of the day, we ate very well: there were plenty of burgers, sausages, veggie burgers and buns (Adam had fetched an enormous pile of baps). There were also chocolatey things, and Sharon had brought Gulab Jamun for dessert. She explained that these were an Indian dessert where sponge-like balls are soaked in syrup, which is traditionally flavoured with rose water, but she likes to use alcohol! Half were soaked in a Malibu syrup and half in a Kirsch syrup. Delicious!
We slept well that night, some of us on cosy airbeds. The campsite was green and lovely, and its peace and quiet was only occasionally interrupted by the sound of distant cuckoos. We woke in the morning to the sounds of the megaphones urging on some rowing crews, who were training just a few metres away in the Thames.

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